Friday, May 28, 2004

May 2004

May 2004 - Mayday in Finland
I always like a window seat when I fly to Finland. I like to see the ground drop away, and later get a sight of my beloved Finland from the air. But this time I got a seat by the emergency exit. There was no window, and I could see nothing. There were two seats on my side of the aisle, and three on the other.
The young man next to me said: “Would you mind changing places with my wife?” He gestured to a young woman on the other side of the aisle. “We’re on our honeymoon.”
I thought it rather charming that in 2004 somebody still thinks a honeymoon is significant. Naturally I agreed.
I was now next to two middle-aged Englishwomen. They kissed and touched one another all the way to Helsinki. It was most embarrassing. The only book I had with me was my Finnish dictionary, so I read it intently for the duration of the flight.
My old friend Eine-Liisa was in the Vanhan Kellari. She told me she had spent the weekend in Kotka with her boyfriend. “Have you heard of Kotka?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Arja Saijonmaa sang about the Rose of Kotka. It’s the first Finnish tango I ever heard.”
I danced with a young woman who reminded me of the poem by T.S. Eliot:
Grishkin is nice: her Russian eye
Is underlined for emphasis.
Uncorseted, her friendly bust
Gives promise of pneumatic bliss.
She wasn’t Russian, but she had elegant eye makeup and a very nice figure. She was short - about five feet. She held me very close, which was nice. What was not so nice, was she crushed my right arm in her left armpit hard enough to cut off the circulation. After two tangos and two waltzes I thought I would never feel my fingers again. I would have liked to have asked her to put her left arm round my shoulders, as Eine-Liisa, who is also short, does; but I was afraid of seeming forward and didn’t. After I took her back to her table, I rubbed my arm surreptitiously, so she wouldn’t see.
The following day’s singer was Kristiina Mäki. I had never heard of her, but when I was a teenager I went out with a girl called Christine Hill. (Mäki is Finnish for hill). I don't suppose she was the same person.
Next day I hit the shops. I bought Kaija Pohjola’s new tango CD from Stockmanns. I saw a Kristiina Mäki CD, and bought that as well. I went to the Popangel second hand record shop in Fredrikinkatu. The salesman remembered me. As I entered the shop, he proudly held up two LP’s I had enquired about on my previous visit - Malando Plays Toivo Kärki from 1973 and Tangomarkkinat 4 from 1991. In the first Malando, who is a Dutchman named Arie Maasland, plays the tangos of Finnish composer Toivo Kärki in an Argentine style. The second has a track by Kaija Pohjola in the year she became Tango Queen at the age of 40. The salesman was so pleased, that I didn’t venture to say that I had already found a copy of the Malando on the Internet; so now I have two.
My stock of salmiakki and Presidentti coffee had been destroyed in the fire, so I bought more. But when I was chewing a Fazer Super Salmiakki, one of my crowns came off. I picked the crown out of the chewed-up salmiakki and put it away carefully.
That evening I went to the Vanhan Kellari. Kristiina Mäki wasn’t my old girlfriend, but she did have a rather 60’s appearance. She had an old-fashioned hairstyle with little curls at the back of the neck, as sported by Susan Maughan. She wore a black and white op-art mini-skirt. She sang Sano hänelle niin, which is the old Ronettes hit Tell Him. I admired her a lot.
On the following day I found a dentist in Aleksanterinkatu, opposite Stockmanns. I went in, and they said the dentist would see me at once. The dentist’s name was Anne Marie Munck.
She told me she had studied in Bristol. She was only the second Finnish student there, and they were a bit unwilling to take her on, because the previous Finnish student had been expelled for constant drunkenness. They thought that because she was a girl, she might be better behaved.
“You speak Finnish very well,” she said, which is untrue, though flattering.
“I find it a very difficult language” I said.
“So do I!” she said. “My first language is Swedish.”
The charge for replacing the crown was 80 euros - about 50 pounds. This is more than I would pay in England, but I was seen at once rather than after a fortnight's delay, which happened last time a crown came off. My own dentist is retiring soon, and I am seriously thinking of registering with Ms Munck.
In the afternoon I went to the money museum, which is behind the cathedral. I discovered that the Finnish word raha (money) originally meant "squirrel skin", the medium of exchange of the earliest Finns. There was a seventeenth-century Swedish copper coin, which weighed 4 kilos. There is no silver or gold in Sweden (or Finland, which was part of Sweden at that time), but plenty of copper. The government didn't want to be beholden to foreigners for bullion, so they adopted the copper standard. It was one of those good ideas which just doesn't work. If you wanted to buy a horse and cart, you needed another horse and cart to carry the money to pay for it.
There was also paper money designed in 1922 by the architect Eliel Saarinen, who designed the railway station amongst other important public buildings. The notes featured tasteful artistic nudes.
I found the money museum very interesting. But them I am an old bank man.
The singer at the Vanhan Kellari that night was Marion. Her full name is Marion Rung, but she never uses her surname. The Finns find it too barbaric. I have the same problem.
Next day was May Day Eve. I got up at 7 and went to the harbour to pay a visit to my other Finnish lady friend. She doesn't say much, but then she is Finnish. As a matter of fact, she is French, but she has lived in Helsinki for nearly 100 years. Her name is Havis Amanda. At the base of her fountain two young women were getting into the May Day spirit with a bottle of champagne. They offered me a swig and wished me hyvää vappua (Happy May Day).
May Day was hot and sunny, and all Helsinki was out merrymaking. It is the one day of the year when ex-students may wear their jaunty white academic caps (much more stylish than the ridiculous mortar boards we have); but only after Havis Amanda has put on hers. A new one is made for her every year.
When I arrived back in Bristol, it was 1 in the morning. My mind went back to what had happened last time. I fully expected my sons-in-law to meet me with the words "John, you'll never believe this but . . . "; but they didn't.


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